A bridge too far for Dresden's world heritage status title

Sat, Jun 27, 2009, 01:00

NEWS THAT Unesco has removed Dresden’s baroque cityscape’s world heritage status generated a mixture of anger and resignation in the Saxon capital yesterday. The UN education, science and culture body decided that a new four-lane bridge across the Elbe river, in sight of the historic cityscape, was out of keeping with the heritage status it awarded five years ago.

It is only the second time since its inauguration in 1972 that the Unesco title has been revoked. It ends an emotional five-year battle over the bridge that is currently under construction.

Opinion is divided in Dresden over whether the news would harm the important tourist industry in the city, once dubbed the “Florence of the North”. Much of the historical landscape has been reconstructed over decades since it was firebombed in the last months of the second World War.

“It is idiotic that the architecturally banal bridge was pushed through against all warnings to the contrary,” said Martin Roth, head of Dresden’s famous State Art collection, to the Tagesspiegel newspaper. He said that the city had already seen a 10 per cent fall- off in tourists, a fall that “could not be due alone to the economic crisis”.

Ordinary Dresdners appeared more sanguine about the consequences of losing the title: they voted twice in favour of the bridge as a necessary measure to ease traffic problems in the city.

In a snap survey of 500 people conducted by the Sächsiche Zeitungnewspaper, some 57 per cent said they thought the loss would have no impact on the city.

“The citizens of Dresden have decided clearly for the bridge, it’s just a pity that it wasn’t possible to unite the will of the people and the (Unesco) committee,” said Saxon state premier Stanislaw Tillich.

The news from the Unesco congress in Seville drove opponents of the new bridge onto the streets of the city, some carrying signs reading “Dresden: Embarrassing!” “Those responsible for this decision should be held to account,” said one protestor.

“I’m happy about it, paradoxically,” said another, “because the city has finally been given the bill for its irresponsible behaviour over this bridge.” As a small consolation, another German site won a place on the Unesco list: the tidal flats and wetlands of the Wadden Sea on the Dutch border.